Constipation is one of the most common bowel issues in children and one of the most overlooked. By the time most parents notice symptoms in their child, constipation has usually been a problem for a while, and it may take months to get better. Healthy children should be passing stool daily, without excessive straining.
Here are signs of constipation in children:
- Hard stools that are difficult or painful to pass
- Large stools that can be difficult to flush
- Stomach pain and cramps that can be severe and cause your child to miss school or other activities
- Refusal to toilet
- Difficulty urinating
- Urinary tract infections
- Incontinence of stool (leaking stool into underwear)
- Behavioural difficulties resulting from pain or the embarrassment of constipation
Constipation often develops during the following periods:
- While introducing cereals and solid foods to your child’s diet (around 6-12 months of age)
- During toilet training (2-3 years of age)
- During the start of school (3-5 years of age)
However, constipation can persist into adolescence and teenage years if not treated.
Common causes of constipation include:
- Potty training with poor technique – ideally, your child should have adequate foot support if they are sitting on an adult toilet
- Diet – not getting enough fibre from sources like vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Too little physical activity
- Stool withholding behaviour – particularly when stressed about potty training
- Delaying going to the toilet when they are busy playing, or because they are afraid of using school or public toilets
Constipation is treatable but takes consistency and time. The earlier you treat your child, the less likely that constipation will become an even greater problem as your child grows. At Preventous, we can help children overcome constipation with tools such as oral laxatives, timed toileting after meals, and working with our dietician on a healthy diet high in fibre. With treatment, a child with constipation may have more energy, less stomach pain, and be more willing to engage in regular activities. Probiotics have not been shown to be effective as a constipation treatment in children.
In a small number of causes, children may be constipated due to a medical cause, such as infections, allergies (especially to milk and eggs), celiac disease and cystic fibrosis. If your child is losing weight, has severe or persistent abdominal pain, blood in the stool, or cracks in the skin around the anus (anal fissures), please contact us as soon as possible.
Dr. Bing Wu